Kengtung is a picturesque town which is isolated from the rest of Myanmar in the far eastern part of Shan state, at a short drive from the north of China, the Laos border (east) and Thailand (south). That’s the reason why the town and surrounding areas are a blend of many cultures, Shan, Burmese and Thai, which renders this part of the country fascinating. The ethnic people that inhabit the hills have preserved their customs and heritage, as well as their traditional dress.
Kengtung is set against a beautiful mountain backdrop and its valleys are of stunning beauty. The town played host to Chinese traders, British officials, pilgrims, missionaries and famous writers, which renders it very interesting. It is a good destination is you have the sense of adventure but the infrastructure is not as good as in other popular destinations in Myanmar.
How to get there
Kengtung – capital of Golden Triangle – the opium-growing zone covering parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia – means it has been off-limits to tourists for many years.
These days, however, visitors are allowed in with some restrictions. Foreigners need a permit to travel to Kengtung overland from any part of Myanmar. Another way is by flying from Yangon, Heho and Mandalay (no permit needed). Besides, you can get overland from Thailand via Tachileik.
What to see and do
Trekking to tribal villages
Kengtung is located in a large valley and the main attraction is to take a trek in the surrounding hills and explore remote and colorful tribal villages. You will have an opportunity to discover the authentic tribes of Lahu, Akha, La Mone, Loi, and Shan and see their way of life. Since no outlying villages have licensed accommodation or homestay, trekking in Kengtung is allowed for the day only. This means that you are limited to the immediate environs of the town to which you have to return every evening.
Some common treks: to Hokyin village (Akha ethnic group), the only trek near Kengtung; Wand Seng village (Loi people) on the way to Chinese border and the famous city of Mong La; Wa, Palaung, Hoi Pon, Hong Ma village.
It is advised to get a local guide for your trek. A good guide is essential because he has relationships with the villagers allowing for better contact and interaction with them.
Visit religious sites
The town is studded with more than 30 pagodas, known here by the Thai word ‘Wat’. The gilded stupa of Wat Jong Kam is most impressive with its golden spire visible from all over the town.
In the middle of the natural landscape you will see a breathtaking beautiful, wooden monastery, Wat In, well-known for its archway entrance. There are wood carvings on the doors and paintings on both its interior and exterior walls. The monastery is also home to an impressive collection of ancient wooden statues of Buddha covered in gold, dating back to the 9th or 10th century.
The highest hill in Kengtung is topped by the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral, and a more recently built standing Buddha: Ya Taw Mu, which looks out over the picuresque Naung Tong Lake.
Set against the hills, with a lake close to its heart, Kengtung is a pleasant place to wander around. The main attraction for both locals and visitors is without doubt the bustling morning central market. Here you can see hill tribe villagers, some in traditional dress, sell their local products. It’s a good place to shop for Shan textiles and try out some delicious noodle soups. You will also see monks and nuns gathering alms. If you wander around the town, Nyaung Tung is the perfect place to finish your stroll, and enjoy the sunset.